Sunday, January 30, 2011

Julius Chingono and John Eppel's Together - reviewed in Pambazuka

A 'pre-publication' review of John Eppel and the late Julius Chingono's collection of poems and stories, Together, has been featured in Pambazuka: (

The photographs shown here are of the painting by Marshall Baron that is to be used as a basis for the cover of Together and of the reviewer Philo Ikonya.


Unforgettable ordinary people

Thoughts on ‘Together’ by Julius Chingono and John Eppel

Philo Ikonya

2011-01-27, Issue 514

Readers across the continent will relate to the characters and imagery conjured up in a jewel-filled collection of stories and poems by Zimbabwean writers John Eppel and the late Julius Chingono, writes Philo Ikonya.

amaBooks is set to publish ‘Together’, a wonderful collection of short stories and poems written by Julius Chingono and John Eppel. The assortment, which in an equal share includes 24 poems and 11 short stories by Eppel and 25 poems and 8 short stories by Chingono, will be published in early 2011.Two contemporaries look at the same reality in ‘Together’. These are powerful and well-chosen pieces. They include pieces written at different times. We get unique vistas, but these are linked. Each of the writers is absolutely singular and yet there are similarities. This affects details.

There are fine jewels here. For example the two conjure up images from small things, turning them into icons and vice versa – great things… into ordinary. Chingono writes a short poem about ‘20-044L’, a motor car number plate which is now part of a door that is just holding together. Eppel writes about many little things, including an Ingrid Jonker award in an un-burnt pot. An award in a pot!

The word 'together' is metaphysically about much more here than two men – one white, one black – writing in a collection titled ‘Together’. And, yes, there are racial tensions in some pieces that one feels have boiled over. Will they injure us or heal us? Racial, ethnic roots, politics and wealth have fuelled endless divisions.

This book ‘Together’ is for me a picture of Zimbabwe, a country that attracts much attention for many reasons – but it is also about other countries of Afrika. It makes us see Zimbabwe through two mindsets, almost simultaneously. The rest of Afrika is so near. There are many similarities with different countries but Kenya is the country outside of the Southern Africa region with which there is almost complete resonance in governance concerns. 

The writing immediately communicates the great geographical space that Zimbabwe and many parts of Afrika are. Afrika is so rich. But our eyes are for much more than The Big Five, which you are used to hearing about in wildlife; in this book, animals are incidental. Instead the book explores how vehicles and nature relate to governance. Why are cars so important in terms of brands or makes? Can we have a remake – as with the un-burnt pot and the door with a car number plate – and succeed?

People are tortured by power here, and also by traditions of reverence for old age and chosen leaders. ‘Together’ deals with unforgettable ordinary people caught up in power games of different types. Look at Gore in ‘Leave My Bible Alone’, one of the many moving stories that Chingono contributes here. Gore may not die this Sunday afternoon but I am sure MaMoyo's thoughts and heartbeat are centred on losing him.

I love the church as depicted on a Sunday – how couples struggle to get there and impress the social classes, how some can only take that for a few hours. The scenes resonate with many African Christians. Sunday, rest and drinking seem to go hand in hand... and still the Bible in hand. I wonder how many Gores have lain in the mud or dust on Afrikan paths this Sunday on which I write. These poems and stories are submerged in such realism. You have to be strong! Death laces all life – everything here, including the imagination of Chingono, who pens ‘No funeral’.

We go back to the same questions. What constricts Afrika's big space? Who steals her un-burnt pots and her scrap metal that can make doors? What is Afrika's real identity? What makes me feel so much compassion for the many Reverends – the many ordinary and gullible people who believe that things are being done, and well, for them: ‘The Reverend Benate Jojova was thrilled that he would be playing an active role in Zimbabwe’s constitution-making process…’ People move towards formal and legal institutions of liberation but they do not get there fully. Some argue for traditional solutions in Afrikan governance but others warn that it leaves too much free space for abuse.

In the meantime, we suffer pain as they negotiate governments of coalition in suits. Suddenly, people’s lives hang up – the way a computer does – choking growth, long before they die. 

‘We waited.’ What threatens to steal Chingono’s boundless humour and why does he guard it so zealously in spite of tremendous suffering? Who mocks us this long? The songs of Chimurenga forced on the lips of a people who are betrayed are killing all. The waiting is explosive. I have been in this kind of waiting. The dust that rises from the dancing is a sign that soon things will change. And yet, why are the people of Afrika held in the grip of those to whom they give power and who would reduce them to beggars? These questions are relevant from Tunis to Harare, Nairobi to Yamoussoukro.

The open and vast space in Afrika contrasts with the narrow political restriction and the stolen space of the whole cast: Women, men and children. For Chingono, you – and many in Afrika – may be in the photograph, and yet not be in the picture.

‘In the photograph

I was so drunk

that I would stagger

out of the picture.’

Chingono’s humour again. Once you finish reading his funny bone that nothing can bury, and are inclined to amusement (‘Candy Mercenaries’ and ‘I lost a verse’), the huge and challenging context jumps at you, sometimes with bare fangs. 

The Bible. Life and death. Alcohol. Life and death. Votes. Life and death. Rape and abuse in dimensions that one would hope a million times rather never existed. Death. AK 47. Life. Death. Waiting. Life. Dancing. Death. Support MDC. Death. Coalition governments. Life and death. 

You can feel the strength of the writers' pens impressing the paper. The energy rises up to you from the pages. The images of lives that are tragically imbued with a spirit of freedom that seems to be all the time overcome by oppression is deeply moving. It persists. It keeps coming out in many stories and poems. Images in the stories are painfully etched on one's mind. 

It is quite clear that Zimbabwe is dealing with the need of a liberation that is fully home-grown, rooted and yet aware of legal justice. We cannot afford to be at the Humpty Dumpty and Winkelyn and Broren level. It is also obvious that the vote never translated into what the democracies of the world expected. AK-47 rifles and ‘No Opposition here’ operations are too strong.

In my view, Eppel makes it clear that we simply are not who we think we are. It makes one think that Afrika made a huge mistake in negotiating its modes of governance after colonialism. Western democracy has not worked and does not look like it will work in some Afrikan countries – but we had our democracy, or the possibility of negotiating for one. It is clear that the people were never allowed to own their lives and politics after colonialism. The space shrunk far too fast. President Mugabe and Zanu PF kill for votes and power. Rape, murder going hand in hand with the most base of tortures, and everything is used as the stick with which to hit the opposition. Rape and the level of dehumanisation seen here would not fit in a traditional setting. The ancestors are frustrated. The people are not themselves.

Eppel’s story, ‘The Floating Straw Hat’ is a very unique story in a class of its own, as is Chingono’s ‘Murehwa’. Both stories stand out not because the others are weak, but because they appeal very strongly to purity and innocence. ‘Murehwa’ will be new to younger generations and to Afrikans. It surely should remind many to pen some of the practices that are still on or that are dying in some places. And if that is how people still believe in what is traditional, how will they access these formalities such as elections and not see them as from the West? Yet, might the dead man not be Afrika that someone needs to undress and sing to?

In both the stories mentioned above, there is the persistent existence of something physical: It is the person who is gone that arrests people’s attention. This also happens in ‘Two Metres of Drainage Pipe’. The two writers have great mastery of mood and tone, not just language.

Eppel gets technical on religion and literary ways, as well as on philosophy as taught in the West. Yet, he is the one – even if quite clearly immersed in Christianity – who hits hardest at colonialism and the role of developed countries in what is going on in Zimbabwe. He is the one who had my breath held because I thought he would say that writing in Afrika with a 'k' as the first step in de-Latinising Afrika was of no use – when he endorsed it to my great joy, for I believe in that. Rome was not built in a day. Afrika has never been herself after colonialism. She lost her languages that still hum and sing like choirs in this literature. She lost. She needs to recover and have full confidence that before colonialism, she was Nubia that civilised the world.

The satire and irony in some of the stories may not make this easy reading for the ordinary street person but Zimbabweans are serious readers, save for the hard times they have endured in the recent past. 

However, I need to say that ‘Charles Dickens Visits Bulawayo’, ‘Via Dolorosa’ and Pulcherrima – so much Latin – reminded me of our friend and Zimbabwean writer who died of rage in 2005, if I may say because of his originality and complete rejection of the West, in some ways. Dambudzo Marechera. The question of identity asking himself who he is, is key in Dambudzo. No one can forget the energy of his ‘House of Hunger’. He tore the barriers of belonging that we Afrikans often hide in, the family, because he felt he did not belong even at that level. He believed in his mother's muti, a type of witchcraft. Dambudzo was calling on all of us to see that we have the solution if we have a vision and that we can do things on our own even when the immediate environment does not make sense. Can Afrika ask herself who she is and do the same? 

But as Ngomakurira writes in the newspaper The Zimbabwean, we failed to hear Marechera, whose agenda is still on the table. Are we going to fail to hear both Dambisa in ‘Dead Aid’, a non-fiction work, and Dambudzo in ‘House of Hunger’? We have to shake off the thick layers of dehumanisation and loss of ourselves to find our way Together. 

But, at this moment, I would not pick poetry that is asking WOZA. WOZA (Women and Men of Zimbabwe Arise) has been screaming for freedom. Jestina Mukoko, Muzvare Betty Makoni and Tsitsi Dangarembga to mention but a few. Many women – as Eppel shows so clearly – and men too, have had the worst that could have ever happened to them, and so it is time to acknowledge and congratulate those who would still write and act without fear for change. Eppel and Chingono deserve every attention. I know a book that is meaningful and interesting on Afrika links to many thoughts. It makes us laugh. It shows you how true fiction is as it sits proudly among scientific and non-fiction books. This is one such book, and it challenges too.


* We heard the sad news, that Julius Chingono died on 2 January 2011 after collapsing on New Year's Eve. Born in 1946 on a commercial farm near Harare, Julius Chingono spent most of his working life as a rock blaster in the mines. He wrote in both Shona and English, and won awards for poems written in both languages.

* ‘Together’, a collection of poems and stories by Julius Chingono and John Eppel is published by ’amaBooks Publishers, Bulawayo, and The University of New Orleans Press: 2011.

* Philo Ikonya

is a Kenyan writer, journalist and human rights activist, and currently Oslo City of Refuge's Guest Writer. Africa and Kenya within the context of power, women, freedom of expression and other rights concern Ikonya greatly. Her forthcoming novels "Kenya, Will You Marry Me?" and "Leading the Night" express these themes, as does her anthology of poems in English and German "Out of Prison: Love Songs". Philo Ikonya recently released "This Bread of Peace", a book of poetry published by Lapwing, in Ireland.

* Please send comments to or comment online at Pambazuka News.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Sandisile Tshuma wins an Honourable Mention in the Thomas Pringle Awards

Bulawayo-born writer Sandisile Tshuma has won an Honourable Mention at the 2010 Thomas Pringle Awards. The award is for the best short story published in a journal, magazine or newspaper in southern Africa over the previous two years. Sandisile’s story, Arrested Development, first appeared in the ’amaBooks collection Long Time Coming: Short Writings from Zimbabwe, and it was then published in The Zimbabwean, in the South African literary magazine Wordsetc and in the Kenyan short story collection for schools When the Sun Goes Down: Stories from Africa and Beyond.

The Thomas Pringle Award judges described Arrested Development as a ‘beautifully observed story of a journey – both literal and figurative’. They loved its ‘hustle, hassle, bustle and bluster’ and felt that the images and noise came across beautifully.

The winner of the award was Stephen Watson for his short story Buiten Street, which appeared in the magazine New Contrast. The other short-listed writers were Liesl Jobson, Arja Salafranca and Gail Dendy. Brian Jones of ’amaBooks commented that they were delighted with Sandisile’s achievement, particularly because Arrested Development was her first published story and in view of the considerable literary experience of the other short-listed writers.

Having been born and raised in Bulawayo, Sandisile returned to the city after three years studying Chemical, Molecular and Cellular Sciences at the University of Cape Town, to study Development and Disaster Management at the National University of Science and Technology. At present she lives in Johannesburg and works as Programme Associate for the UNESCO East and Southern Africa EDUCAIDS programme.

Long Time Coming has also had international recognition since it was published in 2008, being chosen by the United Kingdom’s leading progressive magazine New Internationalist as one of their two ‘Best Books’ of the year. The publication of Long Time Coming was supported by HIVOS and the Zimbabwe Culture Trust Fund.

2011 promises to be a good year for other Bulawayo writers. The rights of Bryony Rheam’s debut novel This September Sun, which won Best First Book at last year’s Zimbabwe Book Publishers Association awards, have been bought by Parthian Books for the United Kingdom, and it will be published there this September. John Eppel’s latest book, Together, which contains short stories and poems by John and by the late Julius Chingono, is soon to be co-published by ’amaBooks and the University of New Orleans Press.

Monday, January 24, 2011

book2look blog on amaBooks


Selling books out of Zimbabwe - not easy!

'amaBooks, a small publisher from Zimbabwe, is using book2look to get its books seen around the world. It's not an easy task to live in Zimbabwe, let alone produce such remarkable books as Jane Morris and Brian Jones do. They offer young authors a much needed platform to publish their texts and eventually get recognized outside this torn and bleeding country.
Their book2look biblets are getting very good traffic especially in online stores in the UK and in the US. And so their sales through their international distributors have actually increased. For 'amaBooks it is now a lot easier to send samples of their books to all their international contacts.
Just recently a short story by Linda Msebele from the book Long Time Coming has even been translated into German for the winter issue of Literaturnachrichten.

The biblets can be seen at

Linda Msebele's The Chicken Bus, in German

Linda Msebele's short story, The Chicken Bus, from Long Time Coming: Short Writings from Zimbabwe, has been translated into German and published in the literary magazine LiteraturNachrichten. The Chicken Bus was translated into German by Thomas Brückner, who has translated many African authors into German for various publishing houses.
LiteraturNachrichten is published quarterly by litprom: Society for the promotion of African, Asian and Latin American Literature, with news, authors' portraits and analysis about literary and related events and developments; this quarterly, the only publication of its kind in Germany, has developed into a useful source for editors in publishing houses and media alike.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Tribute to Julius Chingono on Zimbo Jam

Zimbo Jam feature another tribute to Julius Chingono, on Chingono, Robson Shoes Lambada, Theresa Muchemwa

Monday, January 10, 2011

Tribute to Julius Chingono from Tinashe Muchuri

Julius Chingono was one fine writer of humorous poems and stories. He cheered you even at the time when everyone felt the need to be sad and sorrowful. His eyes were so very observant; he could see big stories and poems in situations that most people would see as ordinary. He was one genius of a writer. His death is a loss to Zimbabwe literature and to world literature at large. His work spoke for people in difficult situations across the globe. I felt good to work with him in putting together his material for the collection Together, I learnt a lot.

Tinashe Muchuri is a poet, performer, actor, and writer currently living in Harare. Many of his poems have been published in online journals, such as the Munyori and Arts Initiates, and in print anthologies. Tinashe helped organise the material from Julius Chingono for publication in Together.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Tribute to Julius Chingono from Drew Shaw

Julius Chingono, who died on 2nd January 2011, will be greatly missed by Zimbabwe’s literary community. He had just completed poems and short stories for Together, a collaborative project with fellow-author, John Eppel. This will be forthcoming in 2011.

Born on a commercial farm near Harare in 1946 and working as a rock-blaster on mines for most of his life, he began writing in the 1960s and published in anthologies of Shona poetry, such as Nhetembo, Mabvumira eNhetembo and Gwenyambira. In 1978, he published his first and only novel, Chipo Changu, and in 1980 this was followed by an award-winning play, Ruvimbo. His poems can also be found in Flags of Love (Mireza yerudo) (1983) and Flag of Rags (1996). In 2006 came his own collection of prose and poetry, Not Another Day. His poems and his short stories have also appeared in many other collections, including five poems in Intwasa Poetry (2008).

I asked Julius Chingono, in December 2010, did he prefer to write in Shona or English? “I prefer both languages,” he replied. “It depends on the articulation that the poem or prose demands.” In fact many comment on the author’s skill and versatility in using both languages.

I also asked who were his literary mentors? ‘None,’ he replied, which is in keeping with what he said to publisher, Irene Staunton: “I just want to be myself when I write. I don’t want to jump onto the bandwagon. I want my writing to come from myself. Maybe it is a very small voice, but it is going to be heard somehow.” There is no doubt Julius Chingono achieves a unique and individual perspective. Nevertheless he admitted admiring authors such as Charles Mungoshi, Ezekiel Maphahlele and Chinua Achebe, all of whom have impressed and affected him.

Bearing witness to the day-to-day struggles of ordinary people, particularly those less fortunate in society, is typical of Julius Chingono’s writing, as we see in the following poem from Intwasa Poetry:

It denotes

If you walk by

and find me

lying on my side, curled

like a comma

with no blanket

to cover myself

I am not in a coma

it denotes -

stop briefly

and ponder over these times.

If you find me

lying on my side

legs stretched straight

head and shoulders

bent towards my loins

like a question mark

it denotes -

provide explanations

why certain people

happen to sleep

on street pavements

If you find me

lying on my back

my whole body stretched

at horizontal attention

like an exclamation mark

it denotes -

I am in shock

do not bother

I will recover.

And when you find me


my head between my legs

round like a full stop

it denotes -

stop and tender first aid

subject freezing.

Julius Chingono will long be remembered for his identification with the poor and marginalised - for his commitment to humanitarian struggles and for his social conscience. When I asked him about his vision for the future in Zimbabwe, he said, “I believe in people living together in harmony, fighting poverty being our main agenda.”

Dr Drew Shaw, of Midlands State University in Zimbabwe, is writing the introduction to the forthcoming collection of stories and poems from Julius Chingono and John Eppel, Together.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Tribute to Julius Chingono from Togara Muzanenhamo

"I first came across Julius Chingono’s work some fifteen years ago. After reading his poetry I knew I had read the work of an exceptional poet. What struck me most was the clean honesty of his work, a quality that draws the reader in without throwing up any barriers. Three years ago I eventually met the man at a reception in Harare. Discovering we lived relatively close to each other, I took the opportunity to visit him at his house in Norton – there I was met with a warm welcome and our friendship rapidly blossomed, a friendship I will always look back on fondly. Like his work – Julius was straightforward with a complex depth of humour and tragedy – his hand and mind mirroring the various facets of his surroundings from which he sculpted the poems and stories that have claimed my admiration. As a writer Julius taught me the values of artistic integrity, the importance of personal honesty in art. Julius Chingono will be missed greatly."

Togara Muzanenhamo's poetry collection The Spirit Brides was published to critical acclaim by Carcanet Press. Togara's help and advice in getting Together, by Julius Chingono and John Eppel, ready for publication is much appreciated by 'amaBooks.

Tribute to Julius Chingono from Peter Thompson

"I first got to know Chingono's poetry, and was moved by its economy and dry comment. When I discovered his short prose, in the volume Together, I was overwhelmed by the clarity and force of his narrative gift (and I'm still tempted to say: poetic gift) .

Together will be a great testament, and I sincerely hope that we are able to find and publish more of his work."

Peter Thompson teaches Romance languages and literatures at Roger Williams University in the USA, and has been instrumental in getting Julius and John Eppel's collection Together co-published by the University of New Orleans Press. A book of his poems, Late Liveries, appeared in 2000, and another manuscript was a finalist in the National Poetry Series competition. Recent translating credits are Vamos a cantar(folksongs – Capital University Press), and Red Earth, poetry by Véronique Tadjo (E. Washington University Press). He has worked on issues of creolity and francophone writing, under various grants and awards, in Africa, the Caribbean, and the South Pacific. Thompson has also translated Léon-Paul Fargue’s Poëmes (2003), and is currently working on Nabile Farès’s Escuchando tu historia.

He is also the editor of Ezra: An Online Journal of Translation. He has also edited two anthologies of francophone literature, Littérature moderne du monde francophone, andNégritude et nouveaux mondes, which are widely used in schools and colleges.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Tribute to Julius Chingono from Fungai Rufaro Machirori

There are many things wrong with Bulawayo’s public library, but sometimes it startles you with a gem of a book that changes your perception about things.

I first came across Julius Chingono’s writing in 2007 when flitting across the shelves of library books, my hands stopped to rest on a book with an image of a dark window frame emitting the bright light of a yellow sky, bruise-red sun and neon green mountain tops.

Not Another Day.

It was indeed not another day as I read through the poems and short stories in that anthology, awestruck by the man’s superb ability to use verse to revolt against the political and social suffocation of our beloved Zimbabwe.

So how did my perception change?

I realised that a man, much older than me, whose historical context couldn’t have been more different to mine, could speak to many of my situations as a 23-year-old young woman waiting for life to finally happen to her.

I learnt that words know no owner, and that when used well and respected fully, they can mediate between the most unlikely of people.

I still have Julius’s poetry written up in my old university notebook - welcome salve to the drudgery of lectures and intellectual labour on hot summer days.

I still have the words that he left us all behind with, words which have immortalised this man so that future generations may marvel too at the wonder of his brilliance.

Go well.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Tribute to Julius Chingono from Mgcini Nyoni

"The loss of Julius Chongono is a great loss to the literary community.

He was such a humble being and very unassuming. One thing I learnt, and many poets (he is best known for his poetry even though he was also a great prose writer) learnt, from Julius is to be natural and to be yourself as a writer.

Julius' writing is natural and unforced and a joy to read, and he was also a joy to listen to when he read his work. I remember him reading one of his poems at Intwasa 2007. It was a piece about getting onto the bus during those days when transport was a problem; it was so simple and yet a powerful piece of literature.

May his soul rest in peace. Heaven needs a great writer I guess: that's why God decided to take him."

From Together:

At the Bus Station

When you arrive

at the bus station

pull down your tie

or remove the tie

to prevent strangulation.

During the fight

to board the bus,

unfasten all buttons

of the shirt and jacket

to avoid losing the buttons.

During the battle

to gain entry

to the bus,

tighten both shoelaces

for, when you are hauled

into the bus,

you hang in the air

and the shoes may come off,

tighten your belt

to avoid being undressed

during the scrambling

at the door,

remove your spectacles

and hold tight to someone

until you are in the bus.

During the climb

pay no attention to human sounds,

also bear in mind

words lose meaning

until you are inside the bus.